We really are so lucky in this country to have the National Health Service. We complain about it, but seriously have nothing to moan about if you consider what other parts of the world have to put up with. In an article in the press this weekend some one had got into a lather about the meal presented to them in hospital. I admit is was not the most appetising of meals, but food should not be the criteria for judging the NHS. It should be about the level of medical care. You could, I suppose, argue that medical care includes nutrition when we are in-patients, but honestly I'd sooner have a bad meal and the right medicine, than the other way round. In fact, I think we should pay for our food whilst in hospital and then we would have the right to complain and maybe expect something more palatable.
The stories Kay has been feeding me from Tanzania have made my toes curl and changed my view on what we should expect (or not) from our poor old NHS. The hospital she worked at is in a major town, providing care for 1.3 million people. Although partially government-subsidised, apparently under-5s go free in Tanzania, but everyone else has to pay - for everything - consultations/medicines/anaesthesia. Consequently people are loathe to seek help or cannot afford what is prescribed if they do. Women in labour will forgo the luxury of a local anaesthetic for an episiotomy (ouch), as they can't afford it. A young girl having a miscarriage in A&E (with the cord hanging out) had to wait over two hours for the clerk to come back from her lunch, so she could pay for her treatment, before they could start to treat her. Kay said there wasn't even a speculum in the entire hospital to examine her.
Another story which made me sit up was one of an elderly man brought in with the advanced stages of TB. He was put on an oxygen mask and urinated over the bed while he was there. The nurses apparently wiped the bed down with existing water in a bucket that had been used for something else and then washed out the oxygen mask with a bar of soap before handing it to the next patient to get on the bed - a 16-year-old girl with asthma.
There were many more stories, some of them very upsetting, concerning small neo-natal babies and the lack of facilities for them. It does put our gripes about the NHS into context and make them seem petty. It is not just the under-developed world who have bad basic healthcare systems. Look at medical care in the US. You have to have lots of money or take out vast loans to pay for what we consider as granted here. I understand you have to pay in Australia too, including for the call-out of an ambulance, regardless of whether they take you to hospital or not.
Kay and her fellow British students working out there decided to put a fundraising appeal on the internet a few weeks ago and managed to collect just over £500. On Thursday she was taken to a medical wholesale supplier and bought amongst many other things the following items, some of which can be seen in this photo.....
1 blood glucose machine
200 blood glucose test strips
2 adult Blood Pressure machines
1 paediatric Blood Pressure machine
4 bottles of disinfectant hand gel
3 bottles of disinfectant spray
10L of disinfectant fluid for the sterilisation of equipment
4 digital thermometers
24 suture packs
6 pairs of scissors
500 latex gloves
50 pairs of sterile gloves
10 boxes of small dressings
5 boxes of large dressings
100 malaria testing kits
2 enormous bags of needles
1 pen torch
10 paediatric nasal oxygen masks
2 standard paediatric oxygen masks
1 set of weighing scales
500 urine dipsticks
120 umbilical cord clamps
4 bottles of ultrasound jelly
5 tubes of KY jelly
1 large roll of guaze swabs
5 pairs of episiotomy scissors
100 hydralazine (BP) tabets
12 bottles of hand wash
20m of wipe-clean polyethene material to cover surfaces
She presented it to the hospital on Friday - her last working day - and they were very pleased to say the least. It may not be much to us, but to them it can make such a difference. It really does make a moan about a gristly bit of meat on our plate or a curled up sandwich in hospital seem trivial. The NHS has only got a certain amount of money. Food or medicine? I know what I'd choose.